DURING THIS year’s Geneva motor show, a new sharply styled 300km/h tallboy Lamborghini was one of the stars. Unlike many of the new upmarket SUVs scattered through the halls of the Palexpo, the Urus at least has some four-by-four pedigree. Remember the ’80s ‘Rambo Lambo’ LM002, the first SUV with supercar genes? If you’ve ever seen one, they’re impossible to forget.
That monster, originally conceived as a (failed) military vehicle, was the most outrageous, thirstiest, and most in-yourface SUV of its time, and probably of all time. No big car, in history, has ever intimidated other road users quite like an LM002. It was powered by a Countach V12, so no SUV has ever sounded like it, either. It was also the fastest SUV of its day.
Did Lamborghini CEO and president Stefano Domenicali ever have the tiniest worry that a new SUV might sully the Sant’Agata maker’s hallowed Ferrari-rivalling supercar reputation? “No,” he says when we meet in Geneva, just a few hours after the Urus is unveiled. “The biggest challenge was to make sure it had the soul of a super sports car. It had to have the design, technology and – very importantly – the feel of a Lamborghini.” I haven’t driven it yet. But our man Georg Kacher, who has (see page 26), says it feels like a proper Lambo – albeit from an elevated perch. There is even a Corsa mode for track use.
Almost 70 per cent of those ordering the Urus, according to Domenicali, are new to Lamborghini. So, like the Bentayga and Cayenne, it’ll mean significant extra business.
Lamborghini production will jump this year to almost 7500 cars, from 3800 last year. It’ll also be the first Lamborghini designed for everyday use. (Something that couldn’t be said of the LM002.) Disappointments include a less adventurous style than the Urus concept – though it’s hardly going to go unnoticed at the supermarket – and the lack of a Lambo V12 up front. Instead, we find a VW Group twin-turbo V8 and a Q7-like platform.
Domenicali insists turbocharging is right for an SUV, and why not use the (modified) VW Group platform, when it was available and so much more cost effective? The car is to be made at Sant’Agata, in a new factory alongside the Huracans and Aventadors. A Lamborghini, says Domenicali, must be made in Italy. A Lamborghini must also have a V12, at least the sports cars. Domenicali confirms the next generation Aventador will get naturally aspirated V12 power, including electric hybrid assist. The V10 will continue, too, unturbocharged, but with hybrid help.
Before joining Lamborghini in 2016 – replacing sharpsuited German Italophile Stephan Winkelmann – Domenicali was team principal of the Ferrari F1 team. He guided the Scuderia to the Constructors’ championship in 2008, and under his watch the team narrowly missed the drivers’ championship with Felipe Massa in 2008 – “we were champions for 22 seconds, I think” – and with Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Domenicali, 52, says running Ferrari has helped him manage a car company. “In F1, everything is fast, including decision making and car development. In the automotive industry, things are slower. But we are now in a world of very strong competition, and not just from mature companies. Fast decision making and development now is crucial. I also believe we can be the reference for the VW Group.
We’re small. We can help them do things faster. “But it isn’t just about speed. In F1, everything is about pure performance. Here, you need to balance speed of decision making with the demands of the market and profitability.”
Which is more stressful, running a car company or an F1 team? “The spotlight, as an F1 team manager, is very strong. You’re in the public eye all the time, especially when you run the most famous team in motor racing. It’s a bit like being a football manager. But I loved the excitement and the adrenaline. I was born to go racing [he is from Imola, near the racing track, and managed the Mugello circuit before joining Ferrari’s sporting department]. Now it’s a new experience. But look how lucky I am! An Italian who has run the Ferrari racing team and now another Italian icon, Lamborghini!”
AN INSIGHT INTO THE PERSONALITY BEHIND LAMBORGHINI’S LEADING MAN
A 1984 Alfa Romeo Giulietta. My dad was an Alfa fan.
Driving in the Dolomites in a Huracan Spyder. The road, the fresh air, the sun, the car…
Winning the Formula 1 drivers’ and constructors’ world championship in 2000, with Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. After so many years of being so close, we were world champions again. [Domenicali was team manager working under Jean Todt, whom he eventually replaced as team principal.]
In 2010, in Abu Dhabi, I trusted the strategy guy to get the pitstop timing right. I felt it was wrong. But I followed procedure. So, I take responsibility for that [Alonso’s ill-timed pitstop may have cost him the world championship that year].
A new supercar. I’d buy a Huracan Spyder. But my favourite Lamborghini ever is the Miura.
It was born in 1966. The first-ever Lamborghini, the 350GT, was unveiled in 1963 [at the Turin show. A production version came a few months later, at the 1964 Geneva Show].